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The Crestones

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Crestone Peak / North Pillar T 
Crestone Peak North Buttress T 
Crestone Traverse T 
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Northwest Couloir T 

The Crestones 


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Elevation: 14,294'
Location: 37.9667, -105.585 View Map  Incorrect?
Page Views: 191,813
Administrators: Ben Mottinger, Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monomaniac, Kristine Hoffman
Submitted By: Ben Mottinger on Jan 1, 2001
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Description 

Some of the most jagged and spectacular peaks in Colorado--The Crestones. Both the Crestone Peak (14,294') and the Crestone Needle (14,197') are also two of the most difficult 14'ers in Colorado. They lie within wilderness in the narrow Sangre de Cristo Range in the south central part of the state. The best climbing season is from late June-September although there are some good snow/ice climbs also. There are several technical routes in the Crestone group including Ellingwood Ledges (part of Fifty Classic Climbs of North America) and the NW Pillar on the Peak.

In addition, there are some 14'ers including Humboldt Peak (14,064'), Challenger Point (14,080'), and Kit Carson (14,165') and bunches of 13'ers including Broken Hand Peak (13,573'), Lone Horn Peak (13,143'), Mt. Adams, (13.931'), Colony Baldy (13,707'), Milkwaukee Peak (13,522'), Marble Mt. (13,266'), Music Mt. (13,355') in the area to supplement your hiking needs.


Getting There 

The shortest (although not best) approach to these peaks is via the East side. Drive to Westcliff from CO Hwy 96. Go 4.6 miles. S on CO 69, the take 119 5.6 miles to 120. Turn right and take the dirt road to a gate. Cars without 4WD Low should park here and walk the remaining 5 miles to the trailhead. Those with a good vehicle can take the 4x4 trail. Eds. the 4WD road is closed 3 miles from the old 4WD trailhead. Note that this 4x4 trail is not easy. I would not attempt this trail in any vehicle without 4WD, good tires, and plenty of clearance. FWIW, in the old days, 4WD vehicles were only barely faster than walkers on the last 3 miles.

From the new trailhead, you walk 3 miles up the gentle grade of the old 4WD road. Just before a stream crossing, you have a choice. You can head right up a more forested trail that gets you to just above the Lower South Colony Lake or continue up the slightly longer left fork that approaches the Lower South Colony Lake from below.

If you access the Broken Hand Pass (Standard Crestone Needle access), the trail switchbacks quickly from near the SE corner of the Lower South Colony Lake. There is no established trail on the southern shores of South Colony Lake.

Alternative approach: From the West side, take the Cottonwood Creek trail 6 miles and about 4500 feet of elevation gain to the lake on the Crestones SW side. I prefer this approach since there are far less people and the scenery is nicer.


Camping 

There are camping spots around the Upper and Lower South Colony Lakes that are heavily used by peak baggers. Note, although closer to the starts of the climbs, there is little wind protection around Upper South Colony Lakes due to its being above treeline. You must camp 300 feet from any water source. Ear plugs may help for good sleep with windy conditions. Protecting your food from inquisitive animals is recommended. Water treatment is strongly advised.


6 Total Routes


['4 Stars',2],['3 Stars',2],['2 Stars',2],['1 Star',0],['Bomb',0]
['<=5.6',2],['5.7',1],['5.8',2],['5.9',0],['5.10',0],['5.11',0],['5.12',0],['5.13',0],['>=5.14',0],['',0],['<=V1',0],['V2-3',0],['V4-5',0],['V6-7',0],['V8-9',0],['V10-11',0],['V12-13',0],['>=V14',0]

The Classics

Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for The Crestones:
Northwest Couloir        Trad, Alpine, Grade II   
Crestone Traverse   4th 1 2 I 2 M 1b     Trad, Alpine, Grade II   
Crestone Peak North Buttress   Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c PG13     Trad, Alpine, 1100'   
Ellingwood Ledges   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, Alpine, Grade III   
Kit Carson / The Prow   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R     Trad, Alpine, Grade III   
Crestone Peak / North Pillar   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R     Trad, Alpine, Grade III   
Browse More Classics in The Crestones

Featured Route For The Crestones
Approximate line of the North Buttress, Crestone Peak, CO.

Crestone Peak North Buttress Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c PG13  CO : Alpine Rock : The Crestones
According to the guidebook I had, you simply hike to the base of the large buttress and start up going hand over hand following the easiest line. That describes it fairly well. However, it is very easy to get into more than 5 easy. I also found the rock to be good at times and really scary at others. When you get within 300' of the top you can continue to the top of the east pinnacle or traverse into the top of the NW couloir to get round to the southeast side of the peak for the finish. ...[more]   Browse More Classics in CO

Photos of The Crestones Slideshow Add Photo
An unusual view of the Crestones from the summit of Mt. Adams.
An unusual view of the Crestones from the summit o...
Crestones, seen from near summit of Kit Carson, winter 2013.
Crestones, seen from near summit of Kit Carson, wi...
The Crestones and Great Sand Dunes - Fall, 2001.
The Crestones and Great Sand Dunes - Fall, 2001.
Sangre De Cristo Range, early dawn 3-2009.
Sangre De Cristo Range, early dawn 3-2009.
Paul Crowder enjoying a calm clear February day on the top of Crestone Needle.
Paul Crowder enjoying a calm clear February day on...
View to the south from the top of Crestone Needle, 02/27/09.
View to the south from the top of Crestone Needle,...
Looking at Crestone Needle from Lower South Colony Lake.
Looking at Crestone Needle from Lower South Colony...
Dig that crazy Crestone Needle conglomerate.
Dig that crazy Crestone Needle conglomerate.
Crestone Needle in Feb 2009.  Our route goes up the left couloir.
BETA PHOTO: Crestone Needle in Feb 2009. Our route goes up th...
Looking up the Ellingwood Ledges from near Upper Colony Lake.
Looking up the Ellingwood Ledges from near Upper C...
Looking at Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Peak (right) about 1000 feet short of the summit of Humboldt.
Looking at Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Pea...
Approach to couloir on way to Crestone Needle, 02/27/09.
Approach to couloir on way to Crestone Needle, 02/...
2WD trailhead, 5.5 miles from 4WD TH.
2WD trailhead, 5.5 miles from 4WD TH.
Rusty old pin on the final stretch to the summit of Crestone Needle from South side.
Rusty old pin on the final stretch to the summit o...
The Black Gendarme.
The Black Gendarme.
Crestone Needle in Winter dusk, 02/27/09.
Crestone Needle in Winter dusk, 02/27/09.
Crestone Needle from below Crestone Peak.
Crestone Needle from below Crestone Peak.
Todd signing into the register, 02/27/09.
Todd signing into the register, 02/27/09.
Crestone Needle from Humboldt Peak.
BETA PHOTO: Crestone Needle from Humboldt Peak.
Crestone Needle.
BETA PHOTO: Crestone Needle.
Comments on The Crestones Add Comment
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By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Aug 12, 2002

Hey, has anybody ever climbed the "Black Gendarme", the spectacular tower on the ridge between Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak? This is the spectacular tower near the low-point of the traverse. photo of the whole ridge here ... Black Gendarme from the west

We spotted a wicked crack on the SW side with slings at it's top. Looked wide and burly but was the only route evident on the west side. That is one wild tower!

By Matt White
Feb 10, 2003

That is an amazing looking tower, isn't it? Good ol' Harvey T. Carter claimed the first ascent of the Black Gendarme in the early 1960's. See W.M. Bueller's "Roof of the Rockies" for more details.

By Bill Wright
Jun 23, 2003

Does anyone know if the Ellingwood Ledges route and the Prow have been linked before? Since these are the two most famous climbs in the area, it seems like someone would have done this before, including the traverse between the Needle and the Peak as the approach to the Prow.

By Jason williams
From: Parker, Colorado
Sep 22, 2003

We were up there this weekend with really perfect weather. Wanting to avoid an insurance claim on the truck I just bought, it took us over 2hrs to complete the 5 mile 4wd road in my Dodge Ram 1500. It seems 4runners and jeeps have the easiest time on this road. We were told by several climbers on the way in that the last pitch on the headwall of Ellingwood Ledges is completely iced up, as well as the surrounding cracks. The days have been nice and warm lately (60s), but the nights dip below freezing. The headwall only gets a couple hours of sunlight each day, probably not allowing time for the ice to thaw. To answer Bill Wright's question, it IS possible to do The Prow from the Ellingwood area? We hiked up the trail from "upper" S. Colony Lake to the saddle of Humboldt Peak, then broke NW along the ridge which will gradually drop you down to the Bears Playground. From here, you can see the obvious awesome Prow about 2 miles away. Keep in mind you do not want to reverse the ridge at night. Several sections are only 3ft wide and some with snow and ice that's challenging enough in the middle of the day. Start early and haul ass and it can be done.

By Jeff Bevan
Aug 14, 2007

My partner and I did the Ellingwood Ledges & Peak Traverse part of the link up on Monday. I have done the Prow as well on a separate excursion. While I am no marathon maniac, the feat is doable. First off a good working knowledge of the traverse is mandatory as it isn't all that intuitive and is usually done in the reverse direction. After dropping all the way down the North/west couloir on Crestone Peak, it is most likely a long mile over to the start of the Prow on pretty reasonable terrain. Ending the day back at S. Colony is going to be the ball buster as going back up over the Bears Playground after all that ground is going to separate the men from the boyz so to speak. But then those of you who chase these dreams are made of the stuff the others of us only dream of.

By Julian Smith
From: Colorado Springs, CO
Aug 2, 2009

A bit more on the marathon stuff… left the trailhead at 3:30 AM, hiked to upper South Colony Lake and had to pace around in the dark to wait for enough light to solo the direct start of the Ellingwood Arete; arrived on the summit at 7:34 AM. Down-climbed the rappel and traversed over to Crestone Peak, which is way more complicated than I gave it credit for; arrived at 9:35 AM. Descended the North Couloir, crossed over the Bears Playground, and climbed Humboldt Peak; arrived at the summit at 11:45 AM. Descended back to the trailhead by 1:07 PM. I call this the South Colony Lakes Trifecta; my first three-bagger! (not as stout as doing the South Prow instead of Humboldt...)

By John Korfmacher
From: Fort Collins, CO
Sep 8, 2009

An update on the S. Colony Lakes access road...the Forest Service is constructing a new trailhead about 0.5 km past the Rainbow Trail intersection, and installed a heavy-duty gate just past the parking area. I don't know what that implies for future 4WD access, but in any event, the lower part of the road has been recently maintained and it is now passable to skillfully-driven 2WD vehicles as far as the new parking lot. The new lot is still about 5 km from the old 4WD trailhead farther up the valley. The upper part of the road is still godawful.

Camping at lower S. Colony Lake was very crowded on Labor Day weekend. There are a large number of fairly good sites southeast of the lake, near the old hiking trail that went unnoticed and unoccupied. PLEASE be careful with waste disposal, litter, fires, etc. in this area.

If you are of a mind to pack a fishing pole along with your rope, both S. Colony Lakes have sizable populations of cutthroat trout.

By Jim Amidon
Nov 24, 2009

Custer County South Colony Road Closure Begins This Month
Westcliffe, Colo., October 1, 2009 - The U.S. Forest Service - San Isabel National Forest, San Carlos Ranger District will permanently close the upper half of the South Colony Road, Forest Service Road (FSR) 120 to motor vehicles on October 13, 2009.

The closure near the Custer and Huerfano County line will occur approx. 2.7 miles above the lower parking lot or 0.2 miles above the Rainbow Trail before the first stream crossing. A trailhead, information kiosk, foot bridge and primitive camping facilities have been constructed at the closure point. The parking area will accommodate about 50 vehicles.

These actions are needed to protect the physical and biological environment surrounding the lakes, streams, trailheads, and routes to the nearby peaks from the steadily increasing levels of recreation use in South Colony Basin.

This action responds to the goals and objectives outlined in the Pike and San Isabel Forest Plan, and helps move South Colony Basin towards desired conditions described in that plan. This action is being implemented in accordance with the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the management of the South Colony Basin. The purpose is to:

Maintain South Colony Basin in a natural condition while accommodating human uses.
Offer recreational opportunities within a natural setting that enhance the visitor's outdoor experience; including opportunities for challenge, self-reliance, and risk.
Provide for public health and safety commensurate with the backcountry setting.
Minimize the costs for maintaining roads, trails and trailhead facilities.

By Leo Paik
Administrator
From: Westminster, Colorado
Sep 3, 2010

The Forest Service is considering charging for permits in the South Colony Lakes area at the cost of $10/day/person for day trips, and $20/trip/person for overnights during May 1-Oct 1. Children less than 18 would be free. These would be available online or with exact change at the trailheads. Consider contacting the FS if you have opinions on the matter.